Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Sex Criminals 12, originally released September 16th, 2015.
Drew: Human beings find meaning in things. It makes sense as a survival mechanism — recognizing patterns or hypothesizing causal links can lead us towards food or away from danger — but it’s also not something we can turn off. A friend of mine once pointed out that you can fill one of those logical analogies (you know, “puppy is to dog as kitten is to cat”) with four totally random words and it will still make some kind of sense — that is, we can find meaning in connections that are literally drawn out of a hat. To me, that means that “meaning” doesn’t necessarily have objective basis in reality — it’s a thing that we construct because that’s what our brains do. This has some rather profound existential consequences, but for the purposes of our discussion of Sex Criminals 12, I want to focus on what it means for the characters, as this issue finds them each extrapolating meaning that might not be there.
The first would be Dr. Kincaid’s lecture, which defines “normal” as “straight” and “abnormal” as “monstrosity” by tracing them back to their etymological origins. Her point is that we still think about things in these terms. While I wouldn’t deny that society tends to vilify or exclude deviations from “normalcy” — particularly when it comes to female sexuality — I’m less convinced of the bearing the ancient Greek origins of those words have on our day-to-day lives. I certainly don’t intend using words like “sinister” to vilify left-handed people, but Kincaid’s argument suggests that I might — even if any left-handed people I’m speaking to aren’t familiar with the etymology of “sinister.” Moreover — and I’ll add here that I’m no linguist — I suspect her assertion that “normal” and “abnormal” don’t share a root word to be a bit dubious. My own research turns up that ab- is simply a prefix applied to “norma,” meaning “away from the rule,” but also, oddly, that “abnormal” is most closely related to “anomalous.”
But I think Dr. Kincaid would freely admit this — she’s not presenting some objective take on reality, but asserting a decidedly subjective argument. Indeed, the real meaning we can extrapolate from her lecture isn’t about normalcy, but her own feelings on the subject. Plus, the notion of “monstrosity” provides a nice segue into Suzie and Jon’s adventures with a decidedly monstrous “semen demon.”
During a lull in the action, Suzie wonders why she doesn’t have any superpowers like astral projections or semen monsters, suggesting that there may be something wrong with her. It’s a clever inversion of Dr. Kincaid’s normalcy continuum — surely not having a superpower is the normal state — but might speak to the same kind of subjective filter. Is it meaningful that some people have additional “powers” within the quiet, or is this more of a “some people can roll their ‘r’s” kind of thing?
My last example is quite a bit sillier, but may illustrate the problem of ascribing meaning to things the most clearly of all of these threads. I’m referring to Kegelface’s goodbye to Dr. Glass.
Because of the scene leading up to this, we know that Kegelface wants to get out of there immediately, but Dr. Glass only knows that she said she wanted to leave after he booped her clit. Post hoc ergo propter hoc — “after this, therefore because of this;” it’s a known logical fallacy, but given no other information, Dr. Glass can’t help but derive meaning from the order of those events. The point is, his interpretation of what happened is entirely limited to his perspective, which we have the benefit of knowing is quite limited. Could Dr. Kincaid and Suzie be falling into the same trap?
For me, the answer to that question is: it doesn’t matter. As much as I might be interested in some kind of objective account of the events of this story, the characters are only going to be motivated by their subjective experiences of it. Suzie’s fear that there’s something wrong with her speaks to her current mental state, and may very well effect her behavior going forward, just as Dr. Kincaid’s speech suggests that she might be more open to so-called deviant behavior than she seemed to be at the start of issue 11. Or maybe not — that’s the great thing about meaning: it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Michael, I’m trying desperately to not saddle you with extrapolating meaning from the rest of the issue (tempting thought it may be), so instead, I’ll leave you with a few more observations. Robert Rainbow’s deep-seated kink-aversion is manifesting itself in his dreams (or, at least, he’s interpreting that that’s what his dreams mean) — that’s a stickier wicket than I had time to address, but I think fits in with my general point here. Also, I found myself misspelling Kincaid’s name as “Kinkaid” — maybe that’s ascribing meaning on my part, but knowing Fraction and Zdarsky, I kind of doubt it.
Michael: We as human beings do indeed love to ascribe meaning to things, from innocuous inkblots to the greater meaning behind daily occurrences. Giving something a particular meaning is comforting for the brain as a deductive tool and as an existential diary. In fact, I’d argue that searching for the meaning in things is the name of the game when it comes to Retcon Punch. We try to read the tea leaves for the larger messages that creators are trying to deliver to us. I always find it easier to attempt to examine someone’s personal psychology by looking at their life through the lens of story.
As Drew pointed out, the characters of Sex Criminals 12 can only interpret the events surrounding them from their own perspective; they can only tell the story where they are the main character. While we don’t know if there is an actual reasoning for why Suzie doesn’t have any discernible “sex power,” from her point of view it might be a personal failure. The question “why me?” frequently occurs in our brains because it’s hard to be truly sympathetic and step outside of oneself. Similarly, it’s hard to step outside of the premise of Sex Criminals, so I couldn’t help but think of Suzie’s lack of powers as a version of impotence.
I think that Dr. Kincaid’s “monster” lecture crosses over with the “powerless Suzie” subplot as much as it does the tentacle monster that she and Jon are running from. Kincaid’s whole lecture is about the social negligence and misunderstandings of female sexuality. Fraction and Zdarsky elevate sexual discussion to a level of fantasy in Sex Criminals, but there is still that same amount of scrutiny and inequality when it comes to female sexuality. Though Kincaid herself has the sex super power of turning into a ghost, her lecture makes Suzie’s plight seem like a “sex problem of the sexes.” In any case it’s clear that while Suzie might not exactly feel like a “monster”, she clearly feels like an outsider (among outsiders.)
Speaking of outsiders, let’s move on to the prude with a name like a porn star: Robert Rainbow. I love when comics use monologues to weave in and out of separate stories within the same book. Kincaid’s lecture is the thread that ties all of the events of this issue together. Her discussion of female sex and sexuality leads her to the psychologies of Freud and Jung — both of which can be applied to Robert Rainbow’s lurid dream. Robert dreams of a slippery slope of going ass-to-mouth with Rachelle turning into a full-on orgy with a bunch of other dudes and an anthropomorphic penis. Simplifying that on a Freudian level would be deducing that Robert’s dreams (which are repressed urges) mean that he’s gay. Not really. But also maybe. My Freudian read of the dream is that Robert is actually repressing the urges to engage in more non-traditional sex acts.
The most important line of dialogue in that dream sequence is when Rachelle dismisses him and says, “He is such an embarrassment to the scene.” Sex Criminals 8 showed us the essentials of Robert’s origin story: walked in on mom and dad having S&M sex, easily swayed by controlling women who are mean to him and does not want to be “an embarrassment to the scene” — something that was told to him and he parroted to his friends. So, like everyone else, Robert wants to fit in; he doesn’t want to be thought of as perverse or different. Jung’s interpretations of dreams were less focused on the sexual nature of dreams — explicit as they may be — and more concerned with their overall interpretation. So yes, while it is possible that Robert is repressing entertaining the potential of more adventurous sex acts, his dream could also mean that he is ready to try something completely different that has nothing at all to do with anthropomorphic penises with penises of their own.
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