Now that the outrage-o-tron has moved from torture to movie casting, here is a round-up of reactions to the “Torture Cover” post the other day. Actually I don’t even need to write anything, as the Outhouse already summed it up with CROSSED TORTURE VARIANT CONTROVERSY SPARKS SURPRISINGLY CIVIL DEBATE ON INTERNET. It’s true. No one was blackballed, castigated or petitioned. The effects and provenance of disturbing material were widely debated, but it was generally decided by everyone involved that those who like it can like it, those who want to throw up can move right over to the toilet.
Now, I did come in for some criticism for calling people who might like violent misogyny sick fucks. I will stand by my statement on that, but people who just like equal opportunity torture seem to be peaceful, law-abiding folk. New Crossed writer Justin Jordan wrote an interesting rebuttal to my piece on his blog, which was also reprinted on Facebook, where the discussion took place.
What might surprise you is that I don’t actually like gore. I’ve never been a gorehound, and most of the time I don’t find it all that entertaining. Shit, some of the scariest and most disturbing movies are some of the least gore filled. Note that despite their reputation, the first Halloween and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre are relatively tame affairs from a strictly blood and guts perspective.
But I am a fan of horror, and as mentioned, I do write a lot of extremely violent things, so I’ve had occasion to meet a lot of gorehounds. So I am at least in some position to offer an opinion on what kind of sick fucks they are.
Not sick fucks at all, usually. They are, as most people are, by and large nice and normal people with no particular urge to violently torture and murder people. People that know the difference between real and not real, which seems to be lacking in some people’s ability to imagine stuff.
There was also, if you can believe it, an incredibly civil Reddit thread, of all things. Again, some people were ready to rack the Torture Variants right next to their Cannibal Corpse albums, others thought they were revolting.
The controversy even led Rich Johnston, whose Bleeding Cool site is owned byCrossed publisher Avatar, to write a think piece about the content of Crossed—which he labeled satire. But see more on that below.
Manny people linked to this very recent Warren Ellis piece called Blood in Your Eye: Why We Need Violent Stories which discusses the need for violent material so that we can stop distancing it from ourselves as “The other.”
The function of fiction is being lost in the conversation on violence. My book editor, Sean McDonald, thinks of it as “radical empathy.” Fiction, like any other form of art, is there to consider aspects of the real world in the ways that simple objective views can’t — from the inside. We cannot Other characters when we are seeing the world from the inside of their skulls. This is the great success of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter, both in print and as so richly embodied by Mads Mikkelsen in the Hannibal television series: For every three scary, strange things we discover about him, there is one thing that we can relate to. The Other is revealed as a damaged or alienated human, and we learn something about the roots of violence and the traps of horror.
While the covers themselves were roundly criticized, publisher Avatar was mostly left alone—and to be honest they’ll probably sell a lot more because of all this so it was all good for them. And it was pointed out that Avatar does publish mostly horror including also works by Alan Moore (the very controversial Neonomicon) as well as Ellis, Garth Ennis, David Lapham and so on. They don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are, so there was no hypocrisy involved. Some wondered about the artists who draw the stuff, but Spanish artist Raulo Caceres (oh just Google it), who drew many of the most lurid covers (including the seesaw one) has a long career as an S&M artist, and his Elizabeth Bathory was published in the 90s at Eros Comix. It’s what he likes to draw and it’s incredibly sick, violent stuff. Another willing participant.
While discussion seemed to waver between the covers themselves and the interiors of Crossed, when they were labeled satire, several of the book’s actual writers disagreed with that. I’ve collected a bunch of the tweets into a Storify, but perhaps the most interesting fact was that at least one writer on the book had never SEEN the covers. So some disclosure was made along the way.
Anyhoo, what have we learned? That free speech is AWESOME. That I will never buy a Torture Variant, and I still find them very creepy as a standalone artifact.
As for the larger sense, I don’t disagree with Warren Ellis, really, in that this kind of disturbing material allows us to process our own horrific impulses and those of others around us. Personally, I look to art as a means to explore the BETTER side of the world, and to see things that expand my own consciousness and hopefully ennoble this already debased flesh. I don’t mean just unicorns and puppies. I’m a huge fan of the work of Renee French, Jim Woodring and Hans Rickheit — all of them turn out work that is very upsetting. Throw in Junjo Ito, and other horror manga creators. Yet, I despise work that promotes suffering for the sake of suffering, or bullying or insult humor that are often used as an excuse for abusive behavior. But that is a topic for another doctoral dissertation.
Let’s leave this with the Hero of the Week, Antoinette Tuff, who used common humanity to save her life and that of many others—even the shooter who she talked into laying down his arms. Was there ever a more human or moving moment than her sobs of “Oh God, oh Jesus,” after she was finally safe? We face up to the darkness without, and are either swallowed by it, or light a candle.