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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, October 21, 2016


A comment from fellow blogger A. Sherman Barros reminded me of this interesting Miller/Sienkiewicz collaboration, completed during the same year that they began their collaboration on the 1986-87 limited series ELEKTRA ASSASSIN. LOVE AND WAR is paced like a longish short story, while ASSASSIN is structured more like a novelette. I'll henceforth abbreviate the first title to LOVE, for the symbolic discourse of the story has much more to do with love than with war.

To be sure, the story is rooted in the ongoing conflict between Daredevil and his crime-lord nemesis the Kingpin. However, though the hero swashes a few buckles here and there, this is more of a dramatic tale than an adventure-story. Certainly it has little in common with the comic irony of ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, where the heroine's credo was that "no one is innocent." In LOVE, all of the action centers upon an innocent "damsel in distress," though there's a certain irony about the way her damsel-ness registers upon many of the males in the narrative.

Love is the cause of the Kingpin's lastest crime. His wife Vanessa-- whom, according to Miller, he rescued from an obscure low-wage life-- was injured during the events of Miller's first run on the DAREDEVIL series. Vanessa had been up to a point successful in getting the Kingpin of Crime to retire from criminal activity, but her injury-- which came about indirectly because of her husband's involvement in criminal affairs-- also had psychological consequences. At the beginning of LOVE, she's entered a neurotic state of regression. The Kingpin decides to engage the services of Doctor Paul Mondat, a noted psychotherapist. But being a manipulative SOB, Kingpin wants to make sure the physician brings all of his resources to bear. Thus the crime-lord gives his thugs orders to abduct Cheryl Mondat, the significantly younger wife of Paul, who is also blind and has implicltly married the doctor after having been his patient at some point in time.

So far as getting Paul Mondat to co-operate, Kingpin's scheme is successful. However, the kidnapper selected to abduct Cheryl Mondat is a dangerously unhinged junkie named Victor. Whenever Victor appears, Miller treats the reader to the lunatic's never-ending mental ramblings-- among which is a line of thought in which he convinces himself that he and his kidnap-victim are in love. That Cheryl remains sedated during her abduction is no barrier to Victor. In fact the woman's utter helplessness spurs the kidnapper-- whom Siekiewicz renders as if the man were some weird human-mandrill hybrid, put through some Picasso-like fragmentation process-- to think of Cheryl as a princess, and he Victor as "her most loyal knight."

Daredevil learns about the snatch, and gets on the trail. He succeeds in finding Cheryl, though Victor escapes. The hero takes the unconscious blind woman back to Matt Murdock's brownstone, and assumes his civilian identity in order to talk to her when she wakes. As Murdock he convinces Cheryl to stay hidden, without telling her that he plans, as Daredevil, to liberate her husband from Kingpin's grip. He also manages not to tell her that he's almost as besotted with her helpless beauty as Victor is.

As it happens, though, Paul Mondat has found his own weapon to gain leverage against the crime-boss. As Vanessa begins to regain some of her normal responsiveness, she becomes dependent on Paul, and experiences only fear at the nearness of her husband. Paul, for his part, begins to feel a protective instinct toward Vanessa, and is perhaps a little tempted by her as well: "When [Vanessa] wakes and sees me-- I can only think of Cheryl-- She is much like Cheryl was-- before Cheryl became-- so capable."

During Paul's mental rehabilitation of Vanessa, he succeeds in making her become dependent on him. Then Paul challenges Kingpin to retaliate. As "beauty killed the beast" in KING KONG, Kingpin is utterly unable to deny his beloved wife anything. Thus, by the time Daredevil successfully breaks into the villain's stronghold, his mission is made irrelevant. Kingpin has given both Paul and Vanessa their freedom, and the wherewithal, to leave the country.

As for the damsel in distress, she does get some agency in the end. The demented Victor, using more luck than skill, tracks Cheryl to Murdock's brownstone and tries to kill her in the delusion that he's saving her. Instead, against all probability she manages to kill Victor. Daredevil's only function in the "happy ending" is that at some point he manages to return Cheryl to her husband. On the next-to-last page, Paul and Cheryl, along with the recuperating Vanessa in a wheelchair, prepare to board an airplane and return to Europe, where Vanessa will receive further treatment. The story's last image is that of the Kingpin, his bulk filling the panel, as he contemplates the temporal power he enjoys, even as he tries to forget the loss of the wife who now hates and fears him.

There can't be much doubt that Miller wanted to make a comment about the tendency of men to feel the "Sir Walter Reflex." However, Miller isn't explicitly condemning the reflex, as an ultraliberal feminist would prate about men not giving women agency. Miller seems to suggest that the protective instinct is hardwired into the male genome. (However, if there is a feminine "nurturance instinct" in women, it seems not to manifest in most of Miller's females.) It's significant that Cheryl, despite her being blind and inadvertently attracting almost every male character in the story, does prove, as her husband says, "capable." This trope was also seen in the character of Becky Blake of the DAREDEVIL series, and though Miller did not create her, arguably he gave her as much or more agency than did her writer-creator Roger McKenzie.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


In January and February 2016 I wrote three AMPLITUDE ATTITUDE essays, starting here, on the subject of using this term to gauge the different elaborations of the combinatory mode. In the first essay, I mentioned that even though the Justice Leaguers were the stars of the Gardner Fox story "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers," they were also merely functional presences within the story, and that the greatest "amplitude of associations" (a.k.a., "super-functionality") belonged to the three villains of the story.

Now, at the same time, I must specify that this amplitude remains on the level of what I've called "the underthought," since this level of authorial concentrations deals with what Frye called "the progression of images and metaphors," presumably without any prior intellectual arrangement. The "overthought," in contrast, is what I (though not Frye) have called the author's "predetermined complexes of ideas."

With this determination of symbolic discourse in the JUSTICE LEAGUE story in mind, I started re-considering the role of the villains in a much earlier story, "Injustice Society of the World."  This tale of the Justice League's predecessors, the Justice Society, was scripted by Robert Kanigher, though Kanigher substantially built upon the Justice Society mythos largely created by Gardner Fox.

In my analysis, I wrote:

Much of the time, the JSA heroes won their battles a little too easily, partly because so many of their foes were just ordinary thugs and swindlers. I've argued elsewhere that one has to respect the gumption of commonplace crooks in challenging do-gooders who had godlike powers, but it still didn't usually give rise to many memorable battles.
Kanigher, though, seems to understand the potential appeal of a group that expouses an ethic of evil opposed to that of the heroes' belief in good.

In essence, the Kanigher story follows the same opposition in terms of the mere functionality of the heroes and the super-functionality of the villains. And yet, Kanigher's approach lacks the sheer combinatory delight that Fox appears to take in all the beings of "Magic-Land." The "complex of ideas" in "Injustice Society" may not be all that "complex" compared to the more high-minded artcomics. Still, the basic concept seems to proceed from a straightforward idea; that of turning the goody-goody ethics of the established Justice Society adventures on its head, by devices like showing robots impersonating representatives of law and order, or having the Justice Society undergo a faux trail for their "crimes against crime."

And yet, like a lot of Kanigher's work, the writer doesn't seem to elaborate his characters in a symbolic sense. Kanigher produced dozens, perhaps hundreds, of stories for DC Comics over a period of roughly thirty years. The 1966 tale "Beware of Poison Ivy" proves one exception to this tendency, but usually Kanigher doesn't lavish as much sheer symbol-happy imagination upon his characters as does Gardner Fox. Kanigher favors almost schematic arrangements of his plots and the characters caught up in them, and thus I think most though not all of his stories follow the process of "the overthought" rather than that of "the underthought." As a result, even the individual villains in the Injustice Society story leave something to be desired in the mythicity department; they only take on mythic status through their association. This also stands in contradistinction to Fox's creativity in giving each of his "Sinister Sorcerers" a distinct mythic persona.

On a side-note: I would say that O'Donoghue's PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST also elaborates its symbolic discourse through an overthought-process: everything in it is predetermined by O'Donoghue's scathing opinions on "damsel in distress" fiction. There's a rough parallel, too, in the menaces that dog Phoebe's track: they only have mythic status in the sense that they're a concatenation of stock horrors familiar through pop-fictional usage. Phoebe herself is something of an incarnation of what Nietzsche called "negative will," in that she exists just to be tormented, and thus I would tend to see her also as possessing less amplitude than her tormentors, even though she too is "the star of the show."

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Two of this week's essays are devoted to situations in which female characters are "victims' (and, in one case, "Victims" with a capital letter). Late last year I accused Noah the Huddite (hmm, sounds rather Biblical)  of being "addicted to victimage," So now I'll toss out a few more words to explain why I don't consider it an addiction simply to enjoy this category of fiction

First, NTH wanted-- and probably still wants-- to find "victims" in every form of literary work. By his cited examples, it didn't matter if a fictional woman is being treated to literal Sadean humiliations or is seen simply getting her rocks off in a way that-- horrors!-- might entertain straight males.  His outlook was to evince extreme hypersensitivity to the maltreatment of anyone who was not a "straight white male," even to the extent of reading narratives like Rorschach tests, designed to let him see in them whatever he wanted to see. That said, there have been others, notably the founders of WAP, who have made slightly more cogent arguments about the marginalization of women in a male-centered culture. I might not, at the end of the day, truly subscribe to their arguments any more than I do to those of NTH. But at least I can see why the early members of WAP might have been naive enough to see pornography as no more than an excuse to celebrate "Woman as Victim." NTH, writing at this point in history, has no such excuse.

I once speculated that Heidi McDonald might be something of a "Wapster." She didn't carry on about every little transgression made by straight white males, but she sometimes expressed the idea that fiction ought to conform in all particulars to progressive ideals, particularly those related to the equitable depiction of women in comics. Back in 2014 I wrote my first essay on the principle of "equity" in response to one of her BEAT-posts, and said, in part:

The whole "who's exposed more" question should never have been one of pure equity.  Equity is something to be observed in the workplace or the boardroom, but not in fiction.  Fiction is a place where fantasy reigns, and as I said in the essay, it's simply a lot harder to sell hyper-sexualized fantasies to women than to men.  I tend to think that this is because in general men are hornier bastards than women, but others' mileage may vary.
Equity should never have been the question because equity of this sort is not feasible.   There will probably always be more sexualized female characters in pop fiction than sexualized male characters-- but that doesn't mean that the latter don't occur at all, or that one can slough off all the chiseled chins and buff bodies as manifestations of "idealization."

 With some alterations, it should be evident that it is also not feasible to avoid a preponderance of "female victimage" in fiction, even though it is obviously desirable to reduce victimage of all kinds in real life.

Why not feasible? Because although fiction is not real life, its characters' "unreal lives" inevitably follow some though not all patterns taken from real life.

I devoted some space to the differences between male and female biology in SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE PART 2, but only a few sentences apply to this essay:

With some exceptions, the so-called "great apes" follow the example set by a majority of birds and other mammals in that most male apes possess greater size, about 25 percent larger than the females. This gives the biggest ones a generally greater capacity for imposing their will, either on females or on other males.
Now, I wouldn't have written as much as I have on the subject of "the Fighting Woman Archetype" if I believed that the greater body mass of the human male decided all questions of supremacy. But if it's almost inevitable that most men are stronger than most women, then this physical factor inevitably will be reflected in fiction. This inequity will at all times comprise an "is" that cannot be negated by any *ought.*  Even comic books, which have arguably been a greater haven for the Femme Formidable than any other medium, can't refute the basics of physical law. Thus, there's a certain inescapable physical-- and narrative-- logic that female characters can be more easily victimized than male ones.

That said, to be victimized is not quite the same as being victims. As I noted earlier, the Victims are not Femmes Formidables, but they still show an unwavering persistence in the face of their travails. In contrast, Phoebe Zeit-Geist only gets one or two moments to defy her assailants, but her torments-- whether any reader actually enjoyed them or not-- were apparently meant to make readers give some thought to the prevalence of the "damsel in distress" archetype in fiction. O'Donoghue's hyper-intellectual attitude is in some ways just as scornful toward the archetype as the animadversions of the Wapsters; he's just not framing his critique as a political statement.

More on these matters at a later date.

ADDENDUM: I thought about expanding these remarks for a Part Two, since I didn't really answer the concern with which I started: how to prove that one may in theory have a taste for "female victimage" in fiction without being "addicted" to it. However, I've decided to sum up here. My basic point is that even if an author uses or even emphasizes female victimage in a given story, this does not pre-determine that he's getting his rocks off on seeing women suffer: both of my examples, O'Donoghue and Hewetson, are clearly using female victimage for other thematic purposes than those of, say, the Marquis de Sade. It remains one of my central postulates that fiction should privilege the ideal of absolute freedom, and that there is no particular trope-- no matter whom it offends-- which holds the exact same content that the politically correct seek to transform into a modern taboo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


In my previous post I cited Michael O'Donoghue's PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST as a mythcomic, based in part upon its ironic-- yet still grandiose-- recreation of almost every "damsel in distress" trope known to popular fiction. But what got me interested in exploring ZEIT-GEIST was that I first happened to reread the Headpress TPB that collected six stories devoted to the Skywald Comics series THE SAGA OF THE VICTIMS. Five of these stories, scripted by Alan Hewetson and penciled by Spanish artist Suso Rego, appeared in Skywald's SCREAM magazine, while the conclusion to the "saga," never published in English because the company went out of business, was expressly put together by Hewetson and Rego (and possibly some uncredited assistants) for the Headpress edition.

PHOEBE was devoted to putting one completely unclad female through the wringer in the service of irony. VICTIMS is in a sense just as absurd, placing not one but two young women-- Rhodesian-born Josey Forster and American Ann Adams-- in constant danger from such menaces as a sacrificial cult, a vampire (who's also a robot), a pterodactyl, an octopus, and a Nazi dwarf with his own submarine. Yet in a couple of ways VICTIMS was somewhat more serious in tone. Although the girls' world was absurd, they were not. They are first seen as two winsome modern women, wearing revealing (but not sluttish) apparel. They're seen to be somewhat sexually active, but the narrative doesn't focus on their being subjected to punishments because of their lubricity. 

 Of course, SCREAM was one of three black-and-white horror anthologies published by Skywald, so it might be argued that VICTIMS, like a lot of horror-material, is concerned with putting pretty ladies on display so that they can scream, suffer, and die-- some would say, purely for the pleasure of male readers.

Josey and Ann are admittedly not "tough girls," like some of those seen in 1970s cinema-- notably the characters played by Pam Grier and Margaret Markov in two "salt and pepper"action-flicks, flicks which might have influenced the Victims' appearance. However, though Hewetson does torment his heroines with endless horrific perils--

--the girls prove themselves pretty gutsy and capable of taking on their opponents, as when Ann manages to strangle one of their captors into unconsciousness.From my Fryean perspective, the fact that the girls' gutsiness is validated-- rather than being seen as another crazy aspect of a crazy world, after the fashion of Elektra's "super ninja" status in Elektra in ELEKTRA ASSASSIN-- I term VICTIMS a "drama" rather than an "irony." Like the vast majority of horror fiction, it's all about using horror to purge the reader through an exposure to *antipathetic affects,* rather than using such affects to tear the reader's sense of rationality apart, a literary *sparagmos* if there ever was one.

That's not to say that there's no humor in the story, particularly in the girls' encounter with the dwarf submarine commander, who's much more entertaining than O'Donoghue's evil Nazi from PHOEBE...

...nevertheless, Hewetson does give the girls some dramatic heft. In the next-to-last story, the last published by Skywald, the girls cry to the uncaring heavens, giving the reader a grindhouse version of LEAR's storm-scene.

This story ends with the girls being taken to a huge Manhattan mansion, whose base suddenly sprouts rocket-flames and takes off, implicitly for outer space. The much-delayed conclusion then reveals that the ultimate source of the Victims' torments is an alien from another universe, who has very involved, and fairly senseless, reasons for persecuting them.

In what seems like a pretty nasty ironic conclusion, the alien destroys both girls. However, Hewetson doesn't follow O'Donoghue's lead in rendering the damsels' distress pointless. The last words of VICTIMS show that, despite their destruction, the young ladies survive as "two bits of flotsam-energy," waiting to be reborn again-- at which point, "Boom! All over again!" The symbolic discourse of VICTIMS isn't nearly as organized as that of PHOEBE, despite the fact that both are imitating the mode of the serial chapter-play. Thus Hewetson's story isn't a "mythcomic." But the potential is there, nonetheless, and it's a fun read as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Somewhere in Leslie Fiedler's voluminous writings, he asserts-- and I obviously must paraphrase-- that even though Western literature is replete with dozens of images of women suffering cruel fates at the hands of men, this does not necessarily make the women into mere victims. On the contrary, in some cases-- such as the classic English novel CLARISSA, written by one of the founders of modern prose literature-- woman's ability to survive the perils that ought to break her spirit provides proof of her *perdurability.*

"Perdurability," though not exactly a commonplace word, would almost do as well for me as "persistence," one of the two literary goal-affects I first categorized amidst these Hobbesian-Bataillean meditations. Persistence is certainly not a quality confined to females, but I'd argue that from one point of view it's possible to assert a logical-- though not to say "necessary"-- correlation between "femaleness" and "persistence," as well as a concomitant correlation between "maleness" and the other goal-affect, "glory."

I don't imagine that Michael O'Donoghue, the writer who created Phoebe Zeit-Geist, was thinking in quite these terms. My reading of PHOEBE is that it was meant as an extreme satire of all the "women in peril" stories that had permeated popular culture for decades. O'Donoghue might not have known Richardson's Clarissa from a hole in the ground (so to speak), but he almost certainly knew of the long tradition of melodramas that placed women in peril, perhaps epitomized by the 1914 film-serial THE PERILS OF PAULINE. Some of these melodramas put the woman in peril so that she could rescue herself; sometimes she is set up to be rescued by a more dynamic male character. Since O'Donoghue consistently places his heroine in situations where she cannot rescue herself, clearly he expected the audience to default to the latter formula-- for throughout the episodic storyline, Phoebe is almost never rescued in "the nick of time," or if she is, it is only to subject her to some even more terrible danger and/or humiliation.

This isn't to say that O'Donoghue was totally unaware of the more capable heroines of fiction. Indeed, according to an essay on THE COMICS JOURNAL site, the editors of the literary magazine EVERGREEN REVIEW asked O'Donoghue to do something along the lines of Barbarella, the saucy siren of French comics. Barbarella had debuted in 1962 and, according to Wikipedia, had three of her adventures translated for EVERGREEN in the same year that PHOEBE began. Barbarella wasn't exactly a tower of strength in the comics I've read, but she was sometimes capable of extricating herself from trouble, and so, assuming that O'Donoghue even looked at the translations, I'd assume that he decisively rejected that approach. If anything, O'Donoghue's approach with PHOEBE has strong affiliations with the ouevre of Sade, who liked nothing better than images of degraded women, though on occasion he does torture his fictional men as well.

So is PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST a Sadean work? Well, sort of. Once Phoebe loses her clothes in the opening chapter, her lithe feminine charms remain on constant display throughout the narrative; not even at the conclusion, with its ironic "victory," is she allowed to put on any clothes. So O'Donoghue, whether or not he personally enjoyed his heroine's humiliation, played to the "sexploitational" tastes of some potential readers. Of course, the fact that PHOEBE appeared in a literary magazine meant that it wasn't overtly directed at pure porn-lovers-- not even to the extent that the original BARBARELLA was-- and in theory, one could interpret the trope of continuous exposure as hypothetically ironic. And although Phoebe is subjected to loads and loads of sadistic punishment-- including being killed outright-- O'Donoghue treats these torments in a much more cartoonish fashion than Sade. Sade would certainly never conjure up an Eskimo magical ceremony to restore one of his deceased victims, and if he had one of those victims beat to a pulp by a huge lesbian (O'Donoghue's cunningly named "Blob Princess"), Sade would have savored every wound. But when Phoebe endures this fate, she somehow suffers pain without having any wounds to mar her flesh, at least as rendered by Frank Springer's luscious, Caniff-style artwork.

I called the work episodic, and therefore there's no point in summarizing the faux-plot. What makes the work mythic, however, is the over-the-top inventiveness with which O'Donoghue tortures his bizarrely named heroine. He also takes a number of shots at other contemporary forms of pop culture. At one point the author teases the reader into thinking that Phoebe may be rescued by a super-competent Bond-like agent, only to have him killed out of hand before he even begins the case.

Strangely, though the satirist's intention may have been to lampoon popular fiction-formulas-- like having Phoebe facing the prospect of rape by a Komodo lizard-- there's a sense in which he reveals his own dependence on those formulas. O'Donoghue sets things up so that the reader never sees what happens to his imperiled heroine, thus making fun of the reader's desire to see the narrative played out. And yet, not fulfilling the narrative expectations is just as much a storytelling trope as fulfilling them. I would say that when O'Donoghue simply shows Phoebe surviving the ordeal without explanation, he's simply tapped into tropes like those of the animated cartoon, where the characters can survive insane violence for no reason but because the author says that they can. By conjuring up so many stock villains to menace Phoebe-- Nazis, poncey gays, lesbians, foot fetishists-- O'Donoghue gives them new life in this ironic form, rather than undermining their influence by creating new and more viable menaces. In any case, Phoebe may not really be a *femme formidable,* but she is at least a *femme perdurable.*

Friday, October 7, 2016


Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN series remains at the forefront of the Vertigo books that contributed so much of the cultivation of the superhero idiom into the form of adult, rather than juvenile, pulp.

To be sure, Gaiman's "Sandman"-- an immortal, almost conceptual being who belongs to a small family called "the Endless"-- was not a superhero as such, and most of his stories did not even participate in the combative mode that I deem the primary domain of the superhero. But Gaiman, perhaps much more than earlier groundbreakers like Moore and Miller, infused DC's superhero universe with the qualities of myth and fantastic literature. Small wonder that Gaiman received something less than a warm welcome by the elitist critics of the 1990s. The JOURNAL, which specialized in well-rounded discussions even with many creators their critics did not like, couldn't seem to get a handle on Gaiman's work, resulting in not one but two really blah JOURNAL interviews.

The overall quality of THE SANDMAN, the feature that made Gaiman famous, is to be sure uneven. In many stories the Sandman-- usually given names like 'Dream" or "Lord of Dreams"-- is a peripheral presence, looking on as misguided mortals destroy themselves in pursuit of foolish dreams. But in the earliest issues, Gaiman had to establish Dream himself as a sympathetic character. In the first issue, Dream escapes captivity after having been bound by a mortal sorceer, and in issue #4, which I'm considering here, he journeys to Hell itself, to get back a sacred helmet acquired by a demon during Dream's durance vile.

The centerpiece of the story is a word-battle between Dream and a demon named Choronzon. This form of contest seems roughly derived from the word battles of opposing bards in archaic Celtic tradition, though the implication here is that to some extent, the two supernatural beings do "become" the creatures of which they speak. This too bears a striking resemblance between the literal battles of Celtic magicians, such as the magical battle of the wizards Fruich and Rucht, cited here.  Literal magical battles took place in a number of Celtic stories, but here, Gaiman is to an extent using a less directly violent, somewhat theoretical version of the transformations. Nevertheless, if Lord Dream fails to "trump" his opponent in terms of his imagined transformations, he will pay the price of becoming the demon's servant in Hell.

Throughout the story Gaiman emphasizes Dream's reliance on "hope"-- hope for his own abilities and powers, in particular. By the end of the contest, Dream asserts "Hope" as a cosmic principle that can in theory cancel out even the destruction of the universe. Even after the contest is won, and the sore-loser demons threaten to menace him anyway, Dream defeats the denizens of Hell by telling them that "the dream of Heaven," and the hope to be free of Hell, are in truth the only things that sustain them against perdition's horrors.

"A Hope in Hell" is a good, though not great, Gaiman story: clearly it functions in large part to help readers map out the "Sandman universe." However, it's still a foretaste of Gaiman's best work in the title, and paved the way for the tendency of "adult pulp" titles to find ways to express conflict that did not involve major property damage.

Friday, September 30, 2016


One forum provided me with a link to an online reprint of Susan Sontag's film on early SF-films, "The Imagination of Disaster," so I responded with some current thoughts on the essay.


I remembered liking the essay when I read it years ago, and so I gave it a quick re-read. Some thoughts:

To the objections raised here that Sontag is glossing over the social critiques in popular SF films, it's possible, but I get the feeling that even if you did point out, say, the possible critique of nucleafr power in GOJIRA, she would dismiss them. Like most critics of the time, she's got a very fixed idea of the type of stories that are sophisticated, and those that don't deserve to be taken seriously. Note that she asserts that SF films are far more consequential to the history of the film medium than most if not all prose SF is to the history of prose literature. Talk about a backhanded insult to the whole of SF literature! But we should remember that there didn't then exist a movement to gauge prose SF on its own merits in the academic world, which seems to have come about more in the 1970s. I think that if you pointed out the serious themes of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, Sontag would instantly dismiss it for not being as good as BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.

I liked her basic notion of "the aesthetics of destruction," and  how she connected that aesthetic with other genres, like the Biblical epic. However, it's an overly one-sided picture of SF film, rooted in her agenda to focus upon the common denominator of "the monster" in most of the popular SF films. Yet what about FORBIDDEN PLANET? There's a monster in that, and there's some destruction in it, but it doesn't really follow her pattern. If anything, the main appeal of FP obeys "the aesthetics of construction," at least to those viewers who take pleasure in the immense-- and never destroyed-- Krell power station.

Her whole idea of "the inadequacy of response" is largely like her formulation of the "camp aesthetic." It's an attempt to assert that there's no real meaning in the images and tropes of unsophisticated popular fiction, except as a barometer of social unrest and so on. I've spent years trying to refute this kind of thinking, but I imagine it'll always be with us, because it gives psuedo-intellectuals so much pleasure in their superiority. However, I'll give Sontag this much: I think that to some extent she recognized that these crude films  authentically moved her emotionally, and that she was sincerely trying to understand that phenomenon with the intellectual tools she had to work with.